The Arbequina of Penelope
This mild olive oil, with the smell and taste of ripe vegetables with a hint of banana, is more sweet than bitter. Due to the taste of green herbs, it also has a bit of spiciness. With an aftertaste of tomato, almonds and fig, it is a very pleasant olive oil for sauces and pairs well with boiled, baked or grilled fish. A light salad with some bitter flavors also brightens up with this olive oil. But this olive oil is also recommended with various cheeses and red meat.
'An olive grove is like love: there are days of rain and sunshine, days of satisfaction and disappointment, and without effort it disappears like snow in the sun'
I find people who grow olives special. People who produce olive oil because they want to make the world a better place are that little bit more special to me.
Penelope Garcia Cruz is one such woman. Her name alone seems to come from a movie.
It takes guts and determination to quit a comfortable job and follow your passion. Penelope did just that. After 35 years in the business world, she closed the door behind her and bought some olive groves in Aragon, northeastern Spain. And with that, she went back to her farming roots. It was not easy. She had to leave the place where she had grown up in Andalusia, southern Spain, not knowing whether she would settle in her new place. But now she is living her dream and is at the helm of Oleazara, the olive oil grove she runs with her two daughters and a friend.
An olive grove is like love
When I meet Penelope, I immediately see that I am dealing with a determined woman. And it soon shows in how she talks about producing healthy, tasty olive oil products that she only wants to supply through organic, sustainable and responsible farming. And when she says that virgin olive oil (Extra Virgin) plays a vital role in improving the health of people and the planet, I realize that Penélope Garcia Cruz is no ordinary olive oil producer.
Penélope believes that the olive grove is like love: there are days of exertion, days of rain, days of sun, days of pampering and care, days of illusion and disappointment, days of crying and days of trembling with happiness.
With three olive groves in different locations in Aragon, her days are long and sometimes even tough, but when she sees the olive oil pouring into the bottles, she knows why she does it all.
When I visit Penelope, I notice that it is really a lot cooler than in the south where I just came from. The climate in Aragon is much colder than in the rest of Spain, says Penelope, which means the olives ripen much later. This means that the harvest continues into December. They always hope to be ready before Christmas.
Speed is of the utmost importance
Oleazara has its own mill (or press), which is a big advantage. Penélope can harvest her olives when she thinks the olives are ready for processing. And perhaps even more importantly: there is no way to dawdle! The olives go into the mill immediately after picking. Since the quality of the olive oil depends a lot on the moment from picking to pressing (the faster the better you might say), Penelope feels lucky to have this own press.
“The olives must not be too green or too ripe if we want to obtain the superior qualities of extra virgin olive oil,” explains Penelope.
It starts at the bottom
As I walk through one of her orchards, Penelope tells me that olive trees need healthy soil with roots that can penetrate deep into the subsoil. According to Penelope, a healthy substrate means paying close attention to structure, texture, moisture and aeration. It also implies that there must be enough space between the trees for the roots to grow sufficiently. At Oleazara, the roots have a natural covering of flowers and grass, and if that gets too high, there are a few hungry sheep who do a wonderful job of clearing the weeds.
For Penélope, who really wants to protect the environment, using sheep as lawnmowers is an ecological approach. It means no weed killers for her soil, but instead healthy sheep manure to fertilize her soil.
Three olive groves in Aragon
Penélopes most extensive plantation covers an area of 150 hectares and is mainly devoted to organic farming. The olives are picked early in the morning and immediately processed in Oleaganza's own mill. The second yard is medium in size and the third is the smallest. We are on our way to this orchard as Penelope says out of nowhere with a twinkle in her eye: This third orchard is special. She requires a lot of special care and a lot of pampering. Of course I want to know more about that.
As we walk between 300 and 600 year old trees, Penelope tells us:
"The plantation is about 20 hectares, but the olive oil is the highest quality of all; the nuances are extraordinary. We pay the most attention to it. The roots are very fragile. It's like old people, they have some need more care. And we are happy to do that."
It\'s clear to Penelope that this isn't about 'money on the shelf', but that olive oil is really in her DNA. I'm curious where that comes from. When I ask her, a big smile appears on her face: "It all starts with my grandfather on my mother's side. He wanted to build a new life in the US and emigrated to Detroit. But before he left, his mother sewed ( my great-grandmother) a bag with 12 olives in the lining of his coat, so he would always carry the scent of Córdoba, the city where my whole family was born.When my grandfather returned to Spain, he married my grandmother and told He gave his granddaughters this story, which I found very beautiful."
She is right; the story is about love, olives and tradition, about priceless stories. All this makes me happy.
And that love for tradition and olive oil Penélope passed on to her daughters. From an early age, Penélope used to give her daughters a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil every day to strengthen their bones. Funny to see that these women are now also involved in the production and sale of their own olive oil.
Of course I'm curious what makes Penelope happy: when I imagine how all people at home at the table share stories with each other and that I am there with my olive oil.
And then Penelope suddenly gets a little restless, I notice. It's harvest time and she has to get to work, I realize. Grateful for the time I was allowed to spend with her, I ask one last question. I am curious about her vision for the future.
Penélope becomes serious again when I ask her about her vision of the future.
"We need a better quality of life and a better world for future generations. It's the only way," she says solemnly.
And that takes care and dedication.
And as Penélope goes back to work, I watch her from a distance and write this story. If there is anyone who works with care and dedication, it is Penelope Garcia Cruz.